John McCoy retires from Washington Senate after 17 years of effective lawmaking

Senator McCoy (center) with Swinomish chairman Brian Cladoosby (left)  and Governor 
Jay Inslee (right) at the Olympia capital building. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

After 17 years of service in the Washington State Legislature, Senator John McCoy announced his retirement after submitting a resignation letter to Governor Jay Inslee. His retirement is effective Friday, April 17.

“It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve the people of the 38th Legislative District and our entire state,” McCoy said in a Senate Democrats statement. “When I first came to the Legislature in 2003 as a member of the House of Representatives, I was humbled to represent such warm and vibrant people in Everett, Marysville and Tulalip. 

“Through changes in committees, leadership roles, and even chambers over the course of my legislative career, it was always an immense privilege to represent my neighbors,” continued McCoy. “Thank you for trusting me with such an important job – elevating your voices and building a state where every one of us can thrive.”

The Tulalip tribal member and longtime Democratic lawmaker leaves behind a legacy of steady leadership and commitment to serving his community. He brought a career in military service and years as a computer technician to his work at the Legislature, culminating in a lawmaker who effectively advanced economic development and equality of opportunity for his district. His work is characterized by tireless advocacy for Native American communities, expanded access to high-quality education, and environmental sustainability.

Sen. John McCoy, D-38

Reflecting back on what motivated him to pursue a political position, he recalled numerous issues in the way of Tulalip’s economic development and then-Chairman Stan Jones simply saying, “Get the job done.”

Before McCoy became one of the longest serving Native American legislators in the state’s history, he led efforts to bring better telecommunication infrastructure to the Tulalip Tribes. He also helped bring to fruition the economic powerhouse that is Quil Ceda Village. This community triumph ultimately earned him the Puget Sound Business Journal’s Executive of the Year award.

“Our elders of the late 1800s had a vision that in the northeast corner of the reservation there would be a giant trading post. They had the vision and we just had to get there,” explained the Tulalip lawmaker on the inspiration behind the tribal-owned shopping hub that draws tens of thousands of visitors every day. “Quil Ceda Village allowed us to diversify our economic base while fulfilling that vision our elders had.”

During his five terms in the Washington State House of Representatives, McCoy fought for students, for the environment, for a healthy economy and for tribal communities. He sponsored policy that expanded support for students struggling with behavioral and emotional health needs, protected water rights and access, and integrated comprehensive tribal history and culture education into teacher preparation programs.

Senator McCoy pledged to get a bill passed so all students can learn first-hand about the 29 federally recognized indigenous nations in Washington State. He authored Senate Bill 5433 and in May 2015 Governor Inslee signed the bill into law, making it mandatory for schools to educate students about the history and governance of northwest coastal tribes. The State has since worked diligently with Native Nations to develop a first-of-its-kind curriculum, Since Time Immemorial: Tribal Sovereignty in Washington State.

During a visit to Tulalip’s Early Learning Academy, Senator McCoy listens intently to the joyful messages of a young student. (TN Photo/Micheal Rios)

“It is so important our kids become educated with an accurate understanding of the relationship between the tribes and the state. As the STI curriculum is implemented in school districts across the state, that understanding of our relationship continues to grow and improve,” said McCoy.

After he was elected to the Washington State Senate, McCoy led victories like the passage of the Native American Voting Rights Act to expand voting rights access in tribal communities, and passage of a groundbreaking dental therapy bill to expand dental care on reservations. He also established Native American Heritage Day, honoring tribal history the day after Thanksgiving.

McCoy was elected by his colleagues to serve as chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus in 2016, and most recently served on the Natural Resources Committee, the Agriculture, Water, Trade and Economic Development Committee, and the Rules Committee. 

His retirement will allow the now 76-year-old to focus on his health and enjoy full-time Elder status. McCoy said he looks forward to spending more time with his wife, three daughters, ten grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.